SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Is it a coincidence or a conspiracy that five Iowa running backs either have quit the team or been suspended since the start of last season?
Common sense says coincidence, but it still makes you wonder.
“It’s weird to say the least,” said junior running back Jason White, who could see more action than usual when Iowa faces Oklahoma in the Insight Bowl on Friday at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.
White was one of two running backs that represented Iowa at Wednesday’s media day. The other was sophomore fullback Brad Rogers.
White did fine filling in for the suspended Marcus Coker during the nearly hour-long question-and-answer session.
But that was the easy part. The hard part will be filling in for Coker during Friday’s game.
The good news is that White won’t have to do it alone because despite the high rate of attrition at running back, Iowa still has enough healthy and eligible players at that position to make it a running back by committee.
Instead of the next man in, Iowa will rely on the next men in to compensate for the loss of Coker and true freshman Mika’il McCall, who also is suspended from the Insight Bowl for undisclosed reasons.
Coker was suspended for violating the athletic department’s code of conduct policy. His loss means that Iowa will be without its leading rusher for the second year in a row at the Insight Bowl.
Adding to the weirdness is the fact that Coker replaced the suspended Adam Robinson for the Insight Bowl last season. Coker then seized the moment by rushing for 219 yards to help Iowa defeat Missouri 27-24.
Coker now ironically has left the door open for somebody else to seize the moment.
It’s unlikely that just one running back will seize the moment Friday against the Sooners because the guys left standing are inexperienced to say the least.
Redshirt freshman De’Andre Johnson leads the remaining running backs in rushing with 79 yards, which is 1,305 fewer yards than Coker gained during the regular season.
“Last year, Marcus was going to be the guy,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We were pretty much down to him.
“I think in this ball game, it is realistic to think we will play all the guys that are healthy and ready to go and the ones that have been practicing.”
It’s hard to say which situation is more precarious for Iowa. Coker already had proven himself heading into the 2010 Insight Bowl. But he also was the last man standing at the position with Robinson suspended — he has since left the team — and with fellow running backs Jewel Hampton and Brandon Wegher having quit the team.
Iowa has more options at running back this time, but none of the players have done enough for Ferentz to know what to expect.
In addition to White and Johnson, true freshmen Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock are part of the running back by committee.
“Last year, we had a little bit more evidence,” Ferentz said. “Right now, Oklahoma is trying to find Canzeri on film.
“There was evidence that Coker could do it and had done it. But I didn’t want to dwell on that last year. If he had broken his shoelace or sprained his ankle, we were in deep trouble. We had nobody behind him. We have more depth (this year), less proven depth if that makes any sense.”
It’s hard to make sense out of what’s happened at running back since the start of the 2010 season. You almost wonder if Iowa used up all its good fortune during Shonn Greene’s record-breaking season in 2008.
Iowa won 11 games in 2009, but still had to overcome losing Hampton to a season-ending injury. Hampton also missed most of the 2010 season with a knee injury.
He then transferred to Southern Illinois, where he was named the Missouri Valley newcomer of the year this past season.
Wegher, on the other hand, isn’t playing football after leaving the team for personal reasons.
He made a brief appearance at Oklahoma, but his attempt to play for the Sooners never materialized.
What’s happened at running back is disturbing and hard to explain, but it also goes with territory.
“I’m not big on conspiracy theories,” Ferentz said. “We’ve had a series of things that have happened. And that’s football. I think probably the most prominent thing about it is when it happens at a position that everybody knows about, it becomes a bigger issue certainly.
“We have had our issues at other positions, too, with injuries, guys leaving the team and what have you. Sometimes it is not as pronounced.”
It’s also not as weird as what’s happened at running back, conspiracy or no conspiracy.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football